Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, September 16, 2013

Voting below the line

It was election day recently in Australia, and even Australians away from home got to vote. Absentee balloting was not the only choice. Expeditioners at the four Australian research stations in Antarctica got to vote at their work places.

Photo credit to Rich Y. at Davis Station
The caption on this photo from the Davis Station made me curious.: "Tensions rise as Bob votes below the line." (To be honest, the guy in shorts and a t-shirt made me curious too. It must have been a mild late-winter day.)

Okay, voting "below the line" slowed things down, but I'd never run into that phrase before. I suspected it had something to do with proportional elections. It really has to do with ranked choice voting.

The official FAQs from the Australian government say,
How do I mark my Senate ballot paper correctly?
On the Senate ballot paper you may vote in one of two ways:
  • you may vote for a political party by putting the number 1 in any of the boxes above the black line. Put the number 1 in one box only.
  • OR
  • put the numbers 1,2,3,4 and so on in the boxes to the left of the individual candidates' names in the order of your choice. You must put a number in every box if you mark your vote below the black line.
And here's a properly filled out sample ballot on which a voter voted "below the line." It's from Western Australia (the state where my cousin lives).

As far as I know, none of the AP6 countries use this kind of ranked choice voting. But, it's an example of another alternative to the plurality (first past the post) system that's so familiar to Americans and Brits. So, as you teach about proportional voting systems in Russia and Mexico and the majority voting in Iran, you could mention ranked choice voting as well.

How about a four-sided debate among groups advocating majority, plurality, proportional, and ranked-choice voting systems?

And, yes, voting in Australia is compulsory. (Maybe that's why voters at Davis Station lined up outside in Antarctic winter. Other stations did vote indoors.)


The Second Edition of What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools is now available from the publisher

The Fifth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher.

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